Guest Column - January 2013
Find a printable version here

Sports Officiating

Keeping Officials 'In the Game'

By James Blair III, Peter J. Titlebaum & Corinne M. Daprano

Based on the survey results and past research, there are several areas that need to be addressed. First, officials work in hostile environments, with coaches, players and fans often losing their cool. One problem may be with the societal acceptance of poor behavior by professional athletes and their coaches. When participants, coaches and fans at lower levels see how professionals in the sport disrespect and degrade officials, they get the impression that this is acceptable behavior. As a result, this behavior comes out at lower levels of competition, in verbal and physical abuse, which, mentioned earlier, had occurred an alarmingly high rate of 13.6 percent.

This behavior is unacceptable and has led to several recommendations. We suggest that the NBA and officials association partner up to run a campaign pushing respect for the game. This could include real-life or fictitious scenarios depicting good sportsmanship and acceptable behavior against poor sportsmanship and unacceptable behaviors.

We also recommend that local high school officiating organizations offer programs on how to handle hostile situations. This could include role-playing in fictitious scenarios and allow experienced officials to give examples of situations they have been in and how they resolved them or how they turned sour.

Second, game assignors need to have a clear and transparent process of how games are assigned. Responses from our project indicate there are two areas where officials felt assignors had significant, and perhaps unfair, influence. Officials felt that assignors singled out favorites who benefited from those relationships. Closely related to this was the feeling that assignors possessed position power and leveraged it disproportionately.

By creating a schedule with rationales as to why officials are receiving certain high-profile or more games than other officials, the assignor could have meetings with officials to go over what they need to do to get assigned more frequently or to higher-profile games. With current technology, this could be done in any location utilizing web technology such as Skype.

These are just suggestions to address two of the problems uncovered in our current officiating system with the goal of preventing officiating burnout and better official evaluating. Future research would allow us to better understand the officiating system and how to make other improvements.

Future studies should look into the following: Do assignors see the same problems officials are seeing with the current officiating system?

James Blair III is an MBA at the University of Dayton. Peter J. Titlebaum is associate professor of Sport Management at the University of Dayton with more than 25 years of teaching and coaching experience. Corinne M. Daprano is associated professor of Sport Management at the University of Dayton with more than 20 years of experience in sport management and recreation.